then he took Him into his arms, and blessed God, and said, “Now Lord, You are releasing Your bond-servant to depart in peace, according to Your word; for my eyes have seen Your salvation, which You have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light of revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of Your people Israel.” And His father and mother were amazed at the things which were being said about Him. (2:28–33)
Having met Joseph, Mary, and Jesus, Simeon took Jesus into his arms. It is hard to imagine how thrilled he must have been as he realized that God’s promises had come true. Salvation had come to Israel, and he was holding the consolation of Israel, the Messiah, in his arms. Overwhelmed with joy and gratitude, Simeon blessed God.
His song of praise (cf.1:41–45, 46–55, 67–79; 2:13–14, 38) is known as the Nunc Dimittis (Now Lord), from the first two words of the hymn in Latin. God was releasing His bond-servant to depart (die) in peace, according to His word of promise revealed to Simeon by the Holy Spirit. His hope fulfilled, his joy complete, his heart at peace, Simeon was content to die. With his own eyes he had seen God’s salvation, personified in the infant Jesus (cf. 1:69; 2:11). He understood that salvation for Israel involved much more than the national deliverance promised by the Abrahamic and Davidic covenants, whose blessings will not be fully realized until the millennial kingdom. In the incarnation, Jesus came not to save His people from their enemies, but from their sins (Matt. 1:21; cf. Acts 4:12).
Simeon’s next statement would shock Jewish sensibilities. Fiercely proud of their status as God’s chosen, covenant people, the Jews believed Messiah was their deliverer. They assumed He would establish their kingdom, which would then rule over the infidel Gentiles. The truth that God had prepared salvation in the presence of all peoples, and that Messiah would be a light of revelation to the Gentiles (cf. Acts 26:23), as well as the glory of God’s people Israel (cf. Isa. 46:13; 45:25), ran counter to all their preconceptions. Even after the resurrection, the apostles still did not understand. Shortly before the Lord ascended to heaven “they were asking Him, saying, ‘Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?’ ” (Acts 1:6).
Centuries of animosity toward the idolatrous Gentiles, whose corrupting influence had contributed to Israel’s downfall, was not easily set aside. The Jewish believers in Jerusalem were horrified that Peter “went to uncircumcised men and ate with them” (Acts 11:3) because, as Peter reminded the Gentiles gathered in Cornelius’s house, “You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a man who is a Jew to associate with a foreigner or to visit him” (Acts 10:28). But salvation is offered to all people, Jews and Gentiles alike, since Christ “made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall” (Eph. 2:14) and “there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for [believers] are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28). Thus the Lord directed that “repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem” (Luke 24:47; cf. Matt. 28:19–20).
Speaking prophetically of Messiah’s ministry Isaiah wrote,
But there will be no more gloom for her who was in anguish; in earlier times He treated the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali with contempt, but later on He shall make it glorious, by the way of the sea, on the other side of Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles. The people who walk in darkness will see a great light; those who live in a dark land, the light will shine on them. (Isa. 9:1–2; cf. Matt. 4:12–16)
According to Isaiah 42:6, Messiah would be “a light to the nations,” while in 49:6, the Lord said to Him, “It is too small a thing that You should be My Servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the preserved ones of Israel; I will also make You a light of the nations so that My salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” In Isaiah 51:4–5, God declared, “A law will go forth from Me, and I will set My justice for a light of the peoples. My righteousness is near, My salvation has gone forth, and My arms will judge the peoples; the coastlands will wait for Me, and for My arm they will wait expectantly.” Isaiah 52:10 notes that “the Lord has bared His holy arm in the sight of all the nations, that all the ends of the earth may see the salvation of our God.” In Isaiah 60, God once again addressed His Servant, the Messiah:
Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. For behold, darkness will cover the earth and deep darkness the peoples; but the Lord will rise upon you and His glory will appear upon you. Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising. (60:1–3)
With each confirmation of their Son’s true identity, Joseph and Mary’s astonishment grew. After hearing Simeon’s song of praise, they were amazed at the things which were being said about Him. Their son, in every sense a normal human baby, was the Divine Savior of the world, the Messiah who would fulfill all the Old Testament promises of salvation and blessing.
MacArthur New Testament Commentary